Historic church celebrates big anniversary

February 22, 2010 6:57:42 AM PST
A downtown Houston church celebrated a special day this past weekend -- its 144th anniversary. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was founded by freed slaves and maintained, church members say, by the grace of God.

"We're just proud that God has blessed us to still be here," said Pastor Otis Winkley.

The sweet sound of worship marked another Sunday at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and this past weekend, another year. The church itself, which was founded by freed slaves in the 1860s, is recognized as a historic landmark for its rich history.

"Pastor Jack Yates was the first pastor and since that time, the church has been continuously progressing and we are here today still praising God, just as we did back then," said Pastor Winkley.

But the view from the church steps is certainly different, surrounded in modern times by skyscrapers. The church's surroundings have changed, but not its message and that, according to church members, is why it's survived for decades.

"The Lord started this church and it takes the Lord to sustain it," said one church member with whom we spoke. "So we are here because of his grace and his mercy and we just continue on a day to day basis and do as he tell us to do."

"We have two busloads of visitors here today from Friendswood Baptist Church and then there are other visitors here today that heard it on the radio that we were celebrating 144 years and wanted to come be a part," said church member Gwen Fedrick.

It's that welcoming spirit, perhaps, that keeps the church going.

"The family spirit is here. There's a lot of love within this church and it's just a place that you're glad to be a part of," said Fedrick.

The church hasn't done only religious work. According to its website, the first educational opportunities for freed African-Americans started at Antioch.